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VINE VOICEon December 26, 2000
I READ THIS STORY FOR THE FIRST TIME ABOUT 25 YEARS AGO. MY SISTER RECENTLY REDISCOVERED THE BOOK AND TOLD ME HOW MUCH SHE ENJOYED IT. I AGREE, THE SECOND READING IS EVEN BETTER.
IN 1939, HITLER INVADED POLAND AND WORLD WAR II BEGAN. THIS IS THE STORY OF A YOUNG ENGLISH WOMAN WHO IS VISITING POLAND AND STAYING WITH A POLISH FAMILY. SHE'S ENCOURAGED TO LEAVE BECAUSE THE NAZIS ARE INVADING, BUT GIVES UP HER OPPORTUNITY TO GO BECAUSE SHE'S BECOME SO INVOLVED WITH HER FRIENDS AND POLAND'S STRUGGLE TO REMAIN FREE.
THROUGH THE STORY, SOME OF THE HISTORY OF POLAND IS REVEALED AND THE CONSTANT FIGHT THAT COUNTRY HAS HAD TO MAINTAIN INDEPENDENCE FROM FOREIGN AGGRESSION. SHEILA MATTHEWS, THE MAIN CHARACTER, JOINS THE POLISH UNDERGROUND AND WORKS AGAINST THE NAZIS. THE TRAGEDY OF THE POLISH PEOPLE WHO ARE FIGHTING ALONE AND WAITING FOR HELP FROM THEIR ALLIES IS SAD, BUT VERY COURAGEOUS. SHEILA IS ALSO INVOLVED IN A ROMANCE WITH ADAM WISNIEWSKI, A WEALTHY LANDOWNER WHO IS ALSO A RESISTANCE FIGHTER.
THE PACE OF THIS BOOK IS A LITTLE SLOWER THAN WE MODERN DAY READERS ARE ACCUSTOMED TO, BUT THE AUTHOR REWARDS US WITH THE METHODICAL MANNER IN WHICH THE STORY AND PLOT ARE REVEALED. I HAD THE FEELING OF WHAT IT WAS LIKE TO BE LIVING IN WARSAW AS THE CITY IS EXPERIENCING BOMBARDMENT. THE DAILY EXPLODING BOMBS, THE NEWS OF THE DEATH OF FRIENDS, THE LACK OF HEAT, ELECTRICITY AND WATER WERE ALL A PART OF THE RUIN OF WARSAW. FINALLY, STARVATION AND THEN THE INVADING GERMAN ARMY MARCHED INTO THE CITY.
THE TITLE OF THE BOOK COMES FROM THE OPENING WORDS OF THE SONG OF THE POLISH LEGIONS WHICH LATER BECAME THE NATIONAL ANTHEM OF POLAND. THE POLISH ARE ACTUALLY SAYING THAT "AS LONG AS I'M ALIVE, POLAND WILL NOT DIE." THE SPIRIT OF THE PEOPLE ENDURED!
THIS NOVEL WAS WRITTEN IN 1944, AND I FOUND IT INTERESTING TO LEARN THAT THE AUTHOR, HELEN MacINNES WAS THE WIFE OF A BRITISH INTELLIGENCE OFFICER. TO MY KNOWLEDGE, THERE'S NOT A LOT OF STORIES WRITTEN THAT DEAL WITH THE SUBJECT OF THE POLISH UNDERGROUND. THIS STORY IS WELL WORTH READING AND A GOOD BOOK FOR AMERICANS WHO WANT TO READ SOMETHING ABOUT THE EXPERIENCE OF POLAND IN THE EARLY PART OF WORLD WAR II.
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on March 31, 2001
I read this one just before I emigrated to America & kept my copy for years until, one day I realized I'd lost it.
Now I have a well-worn paperback again & re-read this simple, hopeful story at least once a year.
It's about a young English woman in Poland during the long, phoney-war summer of 1939. When she finally decides to leave for the safety of England, she can't go, she's half in love with Poland & curious about why so many people seem to know her.
When Hitler's planes & army invade Poland, she is cast into the dangers & intrigues of the Polish underground. There she finds courage & love & must prove herself.
Originally published in 1944, it was quite a daring book for its day. We modern readers, used to coarse, repetitive language & explicit sex & violence, must sit back & become familiar with a different time with different priorities.
I've always enjoyed Helen MacInnes' books - they are well written, thought-provoking & well-researched.
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on May 16, 1998
This book really took me by surprise. I wasn't enthused about reading it, as I didn't really believe it was a spy story. It starts a little slow, but it builds up and up and you're practically on the edge of your seat! The characters are believeable, and the story is gripping. This book gave me a lot of respect for the Polish people and what they went through at the beginning of WWII. Helen MacInnes really treats her audience like an intelligent friend, and her books are easy to read. This one I couldn't put down until I had finished it!
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on June 29, 2004
Perhaps the author did let her anti-Nazi feelings cause her to step over the bounds now and then into a few ill-advised comments on German people, but if you can set aside the war-time emotions and the uncertainties of the time (the novel was written in 1944) and just concentrate on the story and the characters, you will find a truly gripping book.
I don't need to summarize the story, since others have already done that - but, I would like to point out a feature that I found truly satisfying. Some of the publisher blurbs and book-cover artwork might lead the reader to expect this book to be a romance novel with a wartime setting, but it is not. The initial suggestion of a romance is quickly lost in the catastrophe of the German invasion, and the heroine stays pretty much uninvolved romantically till near the very end of this long novel. When romance finally does come, it comes convincingly as an adjunct to the plot and not in a way to supercede it. I thought it was masterfully handled.
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on July 27, 2012
Helen MacInnes was writing international intrigue stories when I was a pup. She still defines the early World War 2 era better than most. If you are over 70 you know a little of the world she helps us remember. If you are younger, you might wish to know about it also.
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on January 29, 2011
There are a number of nonfictional and fictional books concerning non-Poles caught up in the German-Soviet conquest of Poland in September-October 1939, and this is one of the fictional ones. However, it is very realistic.

What inspired MacInness? There is mention of the lack of rain as a major factor in allowing the rapid movement of German panzer columns, and the author being caught as a suspected spy for the Germans. In these matters, it parallels The Mermaid and the Messerschmitt: War Through a Woman's Eyes, 1939-1940 (read the Peczkis review).

The siege of Warsaw brought wealthy and poor Poles together. They faced a severe onslaught of German bombers and artillery. The Germans had vastly larger, mechanized forces.

The military defeat of the regular Polish forces was only the beginning of Poland's agony. The Germans arrested and murdered intellectuals, closed schools, and reduced the population to a very low standard of living. Guerrilla resistance was dealt with by the savage destruction of rural villages and their inhabitants, regardless of age or gender (for example, the village of Korytow. p. 379-on).

The Germans could find no Pole, of significant stature, who would serve as a collaborator. (pp. 395-396). That, and not the falsely-claimed lack of German desire for one, explains the absence of a Polish Quisling.

Contrary to the claims of another reviewer, the author does not present Poles in a unilaterally rosy light. For instance, on the matter of Polish anti-Semitism, MacInnes sees this, in large part, as something that was cultivated by Poland's foreign rulers, whose strategy was to make Jews scapegoats as a diversion of Polish anger from her real oppressors. (p. 105).

The chauvinistic Germans not only believed themselves superior to everyone else, but disbelieved the fact that Poles had ever achieved anything. Poles were treated as swine. (p. 301). MacInnes educates the reader about such facts as the University of Krakow being 600 years old, which is older than the one at Heidelberg. Also, she alludes to the military achievement of King John Sobieski: "Or if she had told him [the scoffing German] that the Poles had saved Vienna from the Mohammedan invasion; if they hadn't, there would be mosques and veiled women in Austria, perhaps even in Germany, just as these reminders of Islam remained in Serbia to this day."
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on December 18, 2012
This is one of my favorite books. Must be because I've read it mulitple times. Had to buy another because I gave my copy away. Didn't realize it would be so hard to find. This used copy was in decent shape.

I understand that Helen MacInnes was often questioned concerning the source of her information, since her wartime novels were so accurate. I can understand that. I learned a lot about the people of Poland through this absorbing novel. All the characters were believable.
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on May 21, 1998
I have enjoyed several of Helen MacInnes' books over the years. "While Still We Live" is my favorite. These characters come alive for me every time I read the book. They are like friends that I must visit every now and again. Obviously, I recommend "While Still We Live"!
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on October 11, 2013
Good book. Thriller with entwined history on the first nation to be attacked by Germany in World War II. I bought this item for my Polish Heritage book club assignment.

Book was in okay condition.
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on May 22, 2011
I first read this book about forty years ago and through the years have kept a copy on my shelves to read again or share with others. It is an inspiring book and a warning to stand and fight for what you know is truth. Among the first people executed by the Nazis in Poland were not the Jews but the teachers and the professors and the educated. The Nazis wanted to destroy a culture and their evil knew no bounds. This is a well written, knowledgeable book on the Polish Resistance from the very beginning of WWII and it causes one to wonder as one character asks, " how is it that some people are so courageous?". It inspires the reader to courage and vigilance. It continues to carry important messages to its reader today. Excellent read.
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